Remarks of Dr. Sima Bahous: The Second Session of the High-Level Arab Forum on Sustainable Development

May 5, 2015

Remarks of Dr. Sima Bahous: The Second Session of the High-Level Arab Forum on Sustainable Development

Remarks of
Dr. Sima Bahous

Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations
Director of the Bureau of Arab States, United Nations Development Programme
The Second Session of the High-Level Arab Forum on Sustainable Development

5-7 May 2015, Kingdom of Bahrain

Your Highness Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa,
Deputy Prime Minister and Vice-sponsor of the event

Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim Altwaijri,
Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Affairs at the League of Arab States

Dr. Rima Khalaf Hunaidi,
Executive Director for Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)

Mr. Ibrahim Thiao,
Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment

I wish to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to His Highness Sheikh Ali Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Deputy Prime Minister for opening this Forum and to the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain for its generous invitation to participate in this second session of this High-Level Arab Forum on Sustainable Development. I would also like to salute the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the League of Arab States for jointly organizing this important Forum.

I take the opportunity of this forum to pay tribute to the outstanding progress that Bahrain has achieved over the past years on all areas of human development, including on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Bahraini leadership has adopted a forward-looking vision and a thoughtful approach that reflects deep concern for the well-being of its people.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This forum provides a very important opportunity to review progress made in the past five years at the regional level on achieving the MDGs, as well as to examine the status of sustainable development in general in the Arab region. We do this in the context of key upcoming international negotiating tracks which include the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development (July 2015), then the United Nations Summit to adopt a new Post-2015 Development Agenda (September2015), and the Paris Conference on Climate Change (October 2015).

Development of the Post-2015 Development framework, offers us a chance to examine the deficits and shortcomings that we faced in many Arab countries, particularly in context of the current political, social, economic and environmental landscape of the region.

Although current challenges may seem insurmountable, we must think about how to develop new and best indicators for equitable and comprehensive growth in the context of the Arab region and the formulation of a development approach based on human rights—a cornerstone to achieve sustainable development impact.

This meeting comes at a time of crisis for the Arab region, but we can also choose to consider the opportunities that this time may offers and how we can make best use of them.

I invite you to a quick review of the challenges that we face on the international and regional levels.

On the international level, some may remember how world leaders agreed fifteen years ago at the Millennium Summit to an ambitious Declaration, which they crystallized through the Millennium Development Goals—the MDGs. These MDGs enabled all countries of the world, for the first time to develop a common vision of development which allows for objective measurement of results achieved.

There is no doubt that these objectives have contributed significantly to advancing development agendas nationally and internationally, even though some may highlight that they had been developed without wide participation of interested parties, and they did take into account different points of view or the special needs of certain populations.

But, as we approach the deadline for MDG achievement in 2015, we have to admit that the MDGs framework was rather rigid and offered little flexibility. And, since we are now in the process of adopting a new framework to address the challenges of sustainable development, we need an approach with a higher level of flexibility that accommodates global differences carefully—one that allows for accelerated action to achieve the results envisioned under the new development agenda.

The new agenda puts sustainability of development at the center of attention, going beyond a focus on quantitative growth and surpassing approaches that reduce development results to general national-level indicators that may conceal many aspects of discrimination, especially against women, as well as many aspects of inequality. Such general indicators often lead to underestimating prevailing sentiments of frustration and marginalization.

The new development framework offers a more insightful approach and that is badly needed. As we look forward to the deliberations of the General Assembly next September, clear general trends have emerged regarding 1) the need to focus on environmental sustainability and its close association with economic and social development: 2) the importance of a revolution in methodologies of data collection and analysis: and 3) the need for individual countries to develop their own national sustainable development frameworks that are inspired by the priorities of the Global Agenda.

In this regard, I would like to address three key points in terms of their impact on countries in our region.

First, the focus on environmental sustainability is particularly important for our region. We live in an area, although replete with mineral resources, but characterized at the same time by extreme scarcity in another vital source, namely water. Effects of climate change have only exacerbated the struggle of Arab communities to face major water shortages.

Two years ago, we launched here in Manama our important report on Water Governance in the Arab Region, which illustrated the magnitude of the challenges facing the region with respect to water scarcity and how it can be a source of conflict—now a reality that we are already experiencing. We need to address this issue strategically and comprehensively, not only dealing with water as a scarce commodity that must be properly valued, but also as a key resource –the source of all life—the absence of which exceeds being a major environmental risk as it may threaten to reverse all developmental gains. We must deal with the issue of water as a vital political issue par excellence.

In this context, we must also emphasize the importance of giving urgent attention to the diversification of energy sources in the Arab region beyond dependence on oil, not only to reduce carbon emissions to curb the acceleration of climate change, but also to ensure the future of coming generations and their right to an advanced development build around renewable energy sources.

The establishment of the Bahrain Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency is certainly a welcome pioneering development in this area, at the regional level.

The second challenge in our region pertains to the availability of detailed data that is the cornerstone of any sound development planning and the challenge of building national capacities in this area. While many of our countries are considered pioneers in the field of development statistics, data availability remains a high priority at these critical time. I emphasize the importance of comprehensive and segregated data that we need to identify accurately differences based on gender and which allow for comparisons between different areas and regions at the national level.

We will never be able to see that development benefits may not reach poor and most vulnerable groups through data that rely only on national averages. Such a “national-average approach” obscures accurate vision of realities on the ground and is not conducive of sustainable development.

Thirdly, we must deal with the new development agenda in a flexible manner that permits negotiating “Minimum Development Standards” and adapting them to national and societal realities. Adopting internationally agreed standards may result in a false and inflated sense of accomplishment that overlooks existing national challenges that may require greater attention.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our region faces a serious c e of instability and it will not be an exaggeration to describe it as being in turmoil—from Palestine, still suffering a debilitating and inhumane occupation to many countries that have recently joined the ranks of conflict that have exhausted the coping capacities of their peaceful populations.

There can be no real development under such raging fires that start out of frustration, anger and a sense of marginalization and lack of opportunities. The absence Development is a primary cause of conflict. At the regional level, peace is a necessity and an indispensable need.

Without peace we cannot talk about development, let alone sustainability. Such peace must be built on stronger foundations that address the root causes of conflict, particularly developmental and environmental causes. And it must be inclusive of all citizens allowing them to be fully involved in the formulation of a common vision for their future.

Where peace is lacking, we at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), work with all parties concerned to build a better tomorrow, building the resilience of communities to cope with the challenges they are facing, to recover from the heavy losses inflicted by conflict and move on to focusing on a future of sustainable development for all.

Only when peace and stability prevail can we talk realistically about a common vision for the future where UNDP remains committed to working tirelessly to support all common effort to achieve the goals of sustainable development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion, I extend my thanks to His Royal Highness Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister, for sponsoring this forum.

I also reiterate my gratitude to the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain, in particular Her Excellency Faeqa AlSalih, Minister of Social Development, and her team; His Excellency Mohammed Al Mutawa, Minister of Implementation Affairs, and his team; the League of Arab States; the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). My sincere thanks also go to my colleagues in the Office of the United Nations Development Programme in Bahrain, for all of their hard work in supporting and coordinating this second session of the High-Level Arab Forum on Sustainable Development. We look forward to the contribution of the forum to the establishment of strong mechanisms to push forward the path of Arab developmental achievement as the world prepares to launch a new development agenda.

Thank you.

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